Daily Recap: April 28, 2009

Alas, C-3PO; BioWare just doesn’t understand.

Today’s update focuses on BioWare’s controversial stance on homosexuality and the brouhaha that resulted on the Star Wars: The Old Republic forums. While the matter has more or less been resolved, the question still remains: How should gender issues be handled in a community-driven online game/gaming setting?

First, a little context. BioWare‘s upcoming MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic, is the second attempt (after Sony Online Entertainment’s flawed Star Wars Galaxies) at creating an MMO within the Star Wars universe. The issue that arose had to do with automatic censorship of words like “gay” and “lesbian” on the game’s official forums. Community manager Sean Dahlberg created these filters and closed a number of threads that dealt with sexuality, regardless of whether they involved offensive or legitimate discussion.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came with this post by Dahlberg:

As I have stated before, these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.

Thread closed.

There are two problems with this approach. The first one is, well, common sense for any nerd:

I’m sure that what he [community manager Sean Dahlberg] meant to say…was that he didn’t feel the Star Wars: TOR boards were the venue for a discussion of this sort. What he did in actual fact was to do something truly dangerous: he entered into a discussion of canon on a Star Wars board.

— Jerry Holkins, “A Reasoned Assessment

But the biggest problem is that he demanded that these issues not be discussed in a public forum. And really, why bother? It’s true that a lot of awful, homophobic garbage gets spewed by a large number of gamers, but the answer is absolutely not to pretend like it’s a non-issue. People of all kinds of sexual orientations play games, and it’s probably fair to say they don’t want to be treated like second-class citizens.

The issue is even more contentious when you consider that The Old Republic will be a massively multiplayer game, which by definition means more player involvement in roleplaying and community building than any other kind of game on the market. Sexuality is a controversial subject, yes, but these discussions need to happen — not just for the sake of the players, but for the sake of the industry.

Fortunately, Dahlberg quickly issued an apology:

I would like to personally apologize to “Elikal” and anyone I may have offended. My intention was not to demean anyone but simply to help promote a community that could discuss topics in a mature fashion. When I first built the word filter list, I added a variety of terms to the word filter that have been used numerous times in derogatory messaging. There were some words added to the filter that should not have been – we corrected this today.

I apologize for the confusion that this has created but I would like to be clear that there was never any intent to limit discussion. That said, I have overstepped my boundaries in my original statement and I sincerely apologize for doing so.

— Sean Dahlberg, via a post in the thread “GLBT discrimination in forums?”

The dust has largely settled now, but questions linger. In 2006, Blizzard dealt with similar gender-discussion issues in World of Warcraft, and Microsoft’s Xbox Live service met with GLAAD to discuss revising its policies after it came under fire for how it handled sex and gender terminology.

Over at Kotaku, Mike Fahey posted an articulate and well-argued essay reinforcing the need to keep confronting these issues in games. I recommend you read the whole thing, but here’s the crux of it:

The internet is a haven for intolerance…We cannot ignore this fact, but we also cannot ignore the large population of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered gamers. Hiding them away is not the answer.

— Mike Fahey, “How Not to Address Homosexuality in Gaming

It’s important to remember that, regardless of whatever views you have on homosexuality, we’re all people who just want to hang out and play some gamesand — in this case — geek out about Star Wars. Treat people with respect, don’t act bigoted, and we’ll all have a much better time playing games, okay? Thanks.